14 March 2008

Freedom except where void

From the official website of Reporters sans frontières, English version:

Reporters Without Borders learned last night that UNESCO has withdrawn its patronage for today’s [March 12] Online Free Expression Day. We were notified of the decision by the director of its Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace Division. Defending the move, UNESCO said it gave its patronage for the “principle of this day” but could not support the various demonstrations organised to mark it.
The demonstrations were by and large protests against censorship. There are a number of countries where you can't speak or write against the government or the dominant religion (sometimes those two are one and the same), or else you run the risk of being harassed and having your website or blog or radio station or newsletter shut down, of losing your job, or worse — being punished by legal or illegal means, with jail or a beating or death. The list includes Belarus, Burma, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

I seriously doubt UNESCO is concerned by the possible reactions of Cuba, Zimbabwe, Tunisia or Burma to RWB's efforts to denounce their record of press freedom violations. This is just a cowardly surrender into self-censorship. This is why so many people think the UN and its agencies are useless bureaucracies.

It's understandable, maybe: China is a communist dictatorship, the most populated country in the world, and it has nuclear weapons; Saudi Arabia is a theocratic dictatorship with the world's largest reserves of oil, and is always working at producing fanatic terrorists in case they're needed anywhere. Iran, about the same, only it's ruled by an anti-American Holocaust denier of a president instead of a pro-American decadent monarchy. And Egypt you can't bother because they keep the other Arab countries in check. But all that aside, what's UNESCO's "Freedom of Expression, Democracy and Peace Division" for, exactly? What are they doing about those nice abstractions?

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